Will Bunch: School battles in Michigan exposes the 2nd Amendment as a poison pill of the American experiment
PHILADELPHIA – In a nation that reveres Christmas shopping almost as much as its nearly 400 million guns, James Crumbley of Oxford, Michigan just made the worst Black Friday purchase in American history.
Just four days after Crumbley bought a 9mm SP2022 Sig Sauer semi-automatic pistol on the busiest shopping day of the year, his sophomore, 15-year-old son Ethan brought the deadly weapon and three 15-round magazines to Oxford-High authorities. This deeply troubled youth had already threatened to destroy the school on cell phone videos and in his diary. After a 10-minute lunch break, four students lay dead or dying, and six others and a teacher were wounded.
One video showed a dozen scared children escaping through a window thinking the man knocking on a locked classroom door was the killer (actually, it was a police officer) and there were reports of children using calculators as weapons. In an alternative version of the United States of America, the harrowing scenes from the exurban high school about 50 kilometers north of Detroit would have stunned and sadly brought the nation to a standstill. But in A.’s US, which we have, where the world’s most heavily armed nation sold at least 25 million more guns – at a near record-breaking pace – in 2021, the Michigan school massacre was essentially just … Tuesday.
Here in Philadelphia, just the day before, a 14-year-old boy waiting for a bus in front of a Rite Aid in his neighborhood in Feltonville was shot dead by two male shooters who jumped out of a car. This in a city backed by a record number of murders in 2021 – 512 and counted as I write this – and almost daily heartbreaking headlines like the death of a 21-year-old Temple University student who was allegedly shot by a 17-year-old , was shocked -year-old when he unloaded an SUV in front of his apartment. When I woke up early Thursday to write this, Upper Darby police at 69th Street Station were exchanging gunfire with a local suspect.
What stands out in 2021 – the second year of a deadly and demoralizing pandemic marked by political anger that began with the January 6th uprising in the U.S. Capitol – is that any type of gun violence you can think of is more common, either with definable statistics or at least anecdotally. The murder rates in the cities have increased. Road rage shoots? High. Domestic violence murders are on the rise. Mass shootings … on the rise. Ditto for school shootings with the Oxford massacre allegedly on 28th 2021, despite limited classroom activities during the pandemic.
In a way, such violent incidents don’t have much in common. But they share some important characteristics. A nation of people alienated, atomized, and increasingly angry, multiplied by the stress of COVID-19. And easy access to the weapons that lead to irreversible results.
Schools – badly disrupted by the coronavirus lockdowns – have become a kind of ground zero for American despair. The New York Times has spent the last year covering a suburb of Philadelphia’s school district, Central Bucks, and this week’s bulletin points to a mental crisis.
“Behavioral problems have sprung up like mushrooms,” the newspaper reported, “there have been suicides and suicide attempts, and a large proportion of students seem to be disconnected, at a loss when asked to do things that are so easy are like joining together in groups. “
But COVID-19 lockdowns and disruptions have sparked citizens around the world, as evidenced by the recent riots and chaos in the Netherlands and other European nations that have put new restrictions in place. The difference between these countries and the United States is, quite simply, that gun ownership across the Atlantic is regulated and rare, while America is the only country that has more guns than people and it’s nowhere near that.
From the first long lines in gun stores from South Philly to Santa Barbara when the first lockdowns came in March 2020, it’s no secret America has seen an epic gun purchase that seemed impossible in a nation that already had more than 300 Millions of weapons from the coronavirus. In the 20 months from January 2020 to August 2021, the public made 65 million additional gun purchases – many of them for first-time buyers.
Are we really shocked that the nation’s shiny new toys are being used? Just this week, Rutgers University researchers published a major new study that essentially confirms what we can see with our own eyes: First-time gun buyers in 2020 “seemed more sensitive to perceived threats and had less control over their emotions and threats Impulse “.
The heartbreak of a Michigan high school – caused by one of the new arms purchases in 2021 – is just the latest outbreak of an American public health crisis that requires action, just as the coronavirus itself, albeit controversial, led to a spate of Reactions such as bans, social distancing, and masking and vaccination requirements. But that won’t happen – not in a nation where a gun cult means extreme interpretations of the “right to bear arms” of the second amendment and an accompanying zeitgeist that blocks the regulation of common sense.
What is particularly frustrating at this moment of national agony is that the Second Amendment – which was treated not only by Conservatives as something brought on by God on a stone tablet – is in fact just a political creation of its singular moment of the late 18th century and the America’s original sin: slavery.
Historians agree that the Virginia Convention, which convened to ratify the 1787 Constitution, had one major scruple – that a national militia could be run by the interests of the North rather than assist in the then greatest fear of Virginia’s great landowners that dominated his politics: a revolt of enslaved persons. For example, the future President James Madison ran for the first Congress and promised to address these concerns with the later Bill of Rights, including a second amendment, which should clearly enable the arming of not so very individual citizens, but state-controlled militias around the “strange institution “To protect the slavery of the south.
Over the next 232 years America grew and slavery was replaced by new, diabolical racial hierarchies and militias became more a thing of extremist nutcases than states run by plantation owners. But one thing remained constant: fear of rebellion against an established order rooted in the idea of white supremacy.
When urban riots and a surge in crime related to our social disintegration broke out in the 1960s and 1970s, the Second Amendment became a tool for an unholy alliance of the newly invented National Rifle Association, right-wing poles, and greedy arms makers to power the powers that be to distort old militias for newly fearful individuals. Thus, the Second Amendment and the culture around it have become a poison pill for the American experiment, with so many unintended consequences – like a 15-year-old boy with severe mental health problems who saw his father’s Black Friday win for a fatal show in class brings. and tell.
I’m not here to argue for repeal of the second amendment, not because it’s a bad idea – it clearly is. But it is politically impractical and would only detract from steps that could be taken to minimize this deadly carnage that has become America’s peculiar institution of the 21st century. Imagine a world where we treat gun violence – including suicide, which claimed 45,000 lives in 2020 – with the same seriousness that we treat vehicle safety (42,000 deaths in the same period) or airport security (after 3,000 deaths a year 2001) regulate.
If the new wrinkle in firearms safety is too many new gun buyers with terrible impulse control, this problem calls for longer waits – say a month – to complete purchases without preventing law-abiding citizens from eventually getting a gun. If James Crumbley was still waiting for the Sig Sauer he bought on Black Friday today, it was Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16, and Justin Shilling, 17, would still be alive and look to a bright, long future. Just as eight people in metropolitan Atlanta, including six Asian American women, would not have been murdered by a 21-year-old man who was crazy about his porn addiction and impulsively bought a 9mm firearm under Georgia’s no-wait guns law.
The national murder crisis is not a Sherlock Holmes mystery, but largely an algorithm where too many angry people buy too many guns. It is imperative that we resolve the evils of a society that provokes far too many people to kill – a complex puzzle that will take years to solve, even if we find the national will. But we could stop instant gun purchases by dangerous people today – and it would help if we tackled the massive weight of our racist anachronism in pulling back underwater a nation that keeps drowning in guns.
Will Bunch is the national columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.